|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
Our guest today will be Mr. Staffan de Mistura, who as you know, headed the UN assessment mission to Nepal. And he’s just back from that country and will brief you on developments there.
Turning to the situation in Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that its freedom of movement and ability to resupply its positions were denied because of the lack of security clearance from Israeli Defense Forces and the intensification of hostilities on the ground. The Mission’s forward positions in the eastern sector are now facing critical shortages of fuel, and it will be vital to resupply them within 48 hours.
UNIFIL also reports that the Israeli Defense Forces have not responded to the repeated request by the UN Mission to reopen the road between Tyre and Beirut, by putting up another provisional bridge over the Litani River.
The IDF confirmed to UNIFIL that any movement of vehicles south of the Litani River is prohibited, with the exception of UNIFIL and Red Cross vehicles. Meanwhile, the UN Mission provided a limited supply of fuel for water pumping in the village of Rmeich today.
And in terms of military activities, two artillery rounds from the Israeli side impacted inside a UNIFIL position but caused no casualties, while Hizbollah fired rockets from the vicinity of two other UN positions.
And we have more details in the press release from UNIFIL today.
** Lebanon Humanitarian
On the humanitarian front, the UN staff in Lebanon report that one aid convoy has moved south of Beirut heading to the Sidon area, and another convoy is to travel to Nabatiyeh. We continue to have access problems to southern Lebanon, and no convoys are headed there today because of the continued blockage of traffic over the Litani River.
The fuel situation is worsening, but attempts by the Lebanese Government and the United Nations to bring shipments into the country continue. We are working to facilitate the passage of existing shipments, and the UN hopes to help provide some fuel to meet some of the needs of essential services, such as hospitals and bakeries, through the Government of Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) today has distributed 384 tons of food, delivered to displaced people in Beirut through local non-governmental organizations. The regular food distribution is continuing in Beirut and in the surrounding area.
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says its stock of emergency aid inside Lebanon has been largely exhausted. The Agency is assessing the needs of hundreds of thousands of displaced people inside Lebanon, but needs to be able to get supplies from outside faster in order to meet the increased needs.
Turning now to the Security Council, earlier today, in fact currently, is still holding an open meeting on peace consolidation in West Africa.
The Secretary-General was in the Chamber earlier this morning and said it is extremely important that we focus on ending the conflicts in the region in order to be able to tackle the essential task of economic and social development.
And we have copies of his speech, as well as the statement delivered by his Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. Mr. Ould-Abdallah is available here in New York for the next couple of days should any of you be interested in speaking to him about the developments in the Bakassi peninsula.
Meanwhile, from Sudan, Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country today gave a press conference in Khartoum, in which he said that, during the first seven months of this year, there has been a significant increase in insecurity in Darfur. Among other things, the number of armed clashes during that period is twice as high as the number of clashes from one year ago.
Pronk said that the first three months since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed have not been positive. He pointed to ongoing incidents of insecurity, the non-signature of the agreement by quite a number of rebels and splits in the opposition, among other problems. And we do have his remarks available upstairs.
**Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights/Darfur
Meanwhile, in a new report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights mission in Sudan, says that there has been no improvement –- and in some areas been a deterioration -– in the human rights situation in Darfur since the signing of the Peace Agreement.
It also reports that there’s been an increase in rape and attempted rape cases in the area.
And we have more -– the report is available upstairs.
**Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs/Ethiopia Floods
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is responding to needs created by floods in the Dire Dawa area of Ethiopia, which have reportedly led to at least 200 deaths and displaced some 3,000 people.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it has pre-positioned some 2,000 family kits in the affected area, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is releasing a one-month ration of food for 10,000 people affected by the floods.
And we have a press release on that upstairs.
**United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/Uzbek Deportation
And the United Nations Refugee Agency says it is shocked by Kyrgyzstan’s extradition on Wednesday of four Uzbek refugees and one Uzbek asylum-seeker.
The five have been sent back to Uzbekistan and the Refugee Agency believes the move places the deportees at grave risk.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres says the move is an extremely serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which Kyrgyzstan has ratified, under which no refugees should be forcibly returned to their country of origin.
The Refugee Agency had secured resettlement places in different countries months ago for the four and had been asking the Kyrgyz authorities to allow them to be transferred.
And we do have more information on that upstairs as well.
**Secretary-General at Water Event
And just a few more items. The Secretary-General earlier this morning spoke to you in this room to announce the launch of a new initiative with MTV network and the hip-hop artist, Jay-Z, to draw attention to the world’s water crisis.
And that event was better attended than this briefing, surprisingly.
The Secretary-General said that more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, while some 2.6 billion people have no access to proper sanitation. And nearly 2 million children die every year because of unclean water and poor sanitation, far more than the casualties caused by violent conflicts.
He said the water crisis can only be fully addressed with the active participation of young people everywhere.
And we do have his remarks upstairs.
A couple more items for you. Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the Secretary-General in a message issued to mark the occasion says that, despite the achievements, much remains to be done to alleviate the poverty, discrimination and human rights abuses faced by the world’s indigenous people.
The Secretary-General called on all to build a partnership for action and dignity on behalf of the world’s indigenous people.
And we do have the full text of his message upstairs.
Also, a discussion and cultural event to mark this international day will take place at 2:30 this afternoon in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, and you are all invited.
And lastly, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced today that it has received a contribution of $500 million over five years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The announcement comes a week before more than 25,000 researchers, health workers, advocates, and policymakers are to meet in Toronto to discuss progress and prospects in the fight against AIDS.
And we do have a press release available on that upstairs.
That is it for me before we turn to Mr. de Mistura. Mr. Wadhams.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Lebanon, is there anything you know, that looks like diplomacy is against [inaudible] on the resolution, and you know, we’re going into our fifth week here in this war, I’m wondering if the Secretary-General is reconsidering whether he could play a more active role, possibly doing some sort of shuttle diplomacy or going to the region. I mean, he does seem to have some sort of authority for this and there could be space for him to play a role. Is he thinking about doing something else, trying to get these efforts jumpstarted?
Spokesman: I don’t totally agree with your analysis about the depth of diplomacy. I think the talks going on here are extremely intensive with the visit of the Arab League representation. I understand more senior officials from other countries will be coming here over the next few days. The Secretary-General is in touch with all the parties, both here at Headquarters through representatives, and on the phone in the region.
His message continues to be the same as it has been -- that this war must end, that all sides must stop all attacks and operations. I think we’ve seen all the suffering on the civilian population during these weeks. It is critical that the resolution be passed and be passed quickly. And the Secretary-General’s efforts are very much focused on that.
Question: I know that he said that message many times, and obviously it hasn’t been listened to. And as far as I understood, those senior officials would come only when diplomacy was ended and there was a deal to pass the resolution. So, I’m just looking if he’s going to re-evaluate his role given that his message has been ignored.
Spokesman: No, I think at this point, the diplomatic discussions here are intensive. As I’ve said, he’s in touch with the parties, helping them reach a consensus and trying to get this resolution passed. Yes, Masood?
Question: Just a follow-up on Nick’s question, because, yes, the Secretary-General has been making these efforts. Has he talked with President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, because the United States is ultimately the biggest arbiter in this war or this situation as it is? Has he recently had talks with President Bush?
Spokesman: I think the last conversation with the President of the United States was a couple of days ago. He’s been on the phone with the Secretary of State Rice numerous times over the last few days, as he is with other parties. And again, he is actively pushing for the diplomacy to continue and to reach an end in a resolution.
Question: I wanted to know, is there any update on this oil slick and is this oil leaking out also responsible for shortage of fuel in Lebanon?
Spokesman: The issue of the shortage of -– there is no clear update from what I added yesterday on the oil slick. Obviously, the destruction of the power station has had tremendous damage of the power supply in Lebanon. The overall problem of the supply of fuel has to do mostly with the cut-off of land routes and sea routes into Lebanon. Yes, ma’am?
Question: Just to add to what he said, this is one of the worst environmental disasters in the Mediterranean. Over 30,000 tonnes of fuel have been spilled in the area and are [talk over] –-
Spokesman: No, as I said yesterday, we’ve had experts from the UN Environment Programme travel to Syria to try to assess the situation and see what can be done. Obviously, clean-up efforts in what remains a war zone are extremely difficult, but the efforts -- the UN Environment Programme is extremely focused on this particular spill. Erol, and then we’ll go to you Sylviane.
Question: Is the Secretary-General concerned with the possibility that there is not going to be a resolution produced on the cease-fire?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is very much concerned that a resolution be adopted as quickly as possible to bring an end to the fighting. Yes, Sylviane? I’m sorry, and then we’ll go to you.
Question: Again, the resolution has to be adopted. Do you know anything about this resolution? Tomorrow? After tomorrow?
Spokesman: You know, I think you are best if not better informed than I am on these issues. Mr. Bolton provided you with a briefing. The other ambassadors are talking. The level of diplomatic activity is intense, but it is difficult to predict when it will show a result.
Question: Another question, the Arab League, Mr. Amre Moussa met with the Secretary-General yesterday and today or he’s going to meet. Do you have anything on [talk over] read out of the meeting?
Spokesman: No, we’ll get a read out of the meeting after it happens from Amre Moussa. We did provide you, I think, with a readout of the meeting yesterday. Yes, ma’am?
Question: I understand the IDF has said that any vehicles moving south of the Litani River are subject to attack by the IDF. Does that mean that no UN humanitarian agencies are moving south --?
Spokesman: Well, we’re not moving south -- UN humanitarian convoys are not moving south of the Litani River for the simple reason that there are no more bridges to cross that river. UNIFIL had already rebuilt the bridge temporarily once. It was destroyed again. Before we attempt to rebuild it a second time we are waiting for assurances from the IDF that it will not be destroyed again. Those assurances have not come through. Obviously, whenever we move humanitarian convoys through war areas, we do our best to coordinate with the militaries to make sure that those convoys are given safe passages. A number of convoys in the previous days had made it down. But our humanitarian folks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are in constant touch with the IDF regarding the movement of humanitarian convoys.
Question: So no UN agency representatives are right now south?
Spokesman: No, there are some representatives south. I’m saying no convoys have moved south. A number of convoys have moved to other areas of the country, but today, we were not able to move any convoys south.
Question: So for those representatives south of the Litani, their movement has been completely suspended?
Spokesman: Well, you know, it’s hard for me to give you that sort of detail from here. What I can tell you is that no large convoys have moved in. UNIFIL, you have to remember, is south of the Litani River. And given the limited means they have, they have been assisting the local population, either with some transport or bringing fuel and generators and medicine and so forth.
Erol, and then we’ll go to Matthew.
Question: If the Security Council resolution is indeed in jeopardy, is the Secretary-General considering something to do with his high moral authority to accelerate or to facilitate the adoption?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is extremely focused on getting this resolution through and helping the parties get this resolution adopted. I’m not going to go into any hypothetical, but the Secretary-General has spoken out a number of times and his efforts continue on trying to get this resolution through. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. Thanks for passing on the UNCHR thing about Uzbekistan. The Uzbek Government is bragging that 14 more people from Russia would be extradited back. Does UNHCR wait until people have been sent back to speak out, or are there statements missing that were missing from here, where there are press reports of people about to be sent back?
Spokesman: Well, I think one would expect that UNCHR is working on the ground closely with the authorities to prevent any of these expulsions and then does speak out.
Question: They seem to be working with the countries that are sending them back to Uzbekistan, but with Uzbekistan itself –-
Spokesman: You know, that’s a level of detail that you would have to talk to UNHCR directly.
Question: About the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the European Union Observer Mission has now said that there is a lack of transparency in vote counting and is criticizing the interim release of results as creating more tension. So I’m sorry to ask, MONUC said a lot as it was leading up to the election. We got a briefing from Mr. Swing that everything was great. It seems like since then, even people like the EU are expressing concerns. Do you have something to say about this today or are they going to say something?
Spokesman: I don’t, but I will try to get something from the Mission. Yes, Masood?
Question: Do you have an update on the situation in Palestine? [Inaudible] talked about it yesterday.
Spokesman: I haven’t been able to get anything from UNRWA today except to say that they are continuing with their humanitarian activities as best as they can given the situation on the ground. But I was expecting something. I’ll give you something right after the briefing. Yes, Sir?
Question: I have a housekeeping question. Yesterday, the stakeout was about eighty per cent in Arabic. Is it possible that the UN has a system that when somebody speaks to their own audience in a foreign language to ask here that somehow we are also taken into account?
Spokesman: I guess it would depend what your definition of a foreign language is. There are six official languages here.
Correspondent: I speak a lot of languages [talk over] –-
Spokesman: I completely understand –- we can provide simultaneous interpretation in this room. The UN does not have the facilities or the money to provide interpreters for each mission. It is up to each mission to decide whether or not they do want to bring an interpreter to the stakeout.
Question: Is there a rule against holding simultaneous stakeouts? There was a period of a few minutes yesterday where Ambassador de la Sablière had a group without microphones other than tape recorders, individual correspondents’ microphones, and Mr. Amre Moussa was talking right over here.
Spokesman: Please do not expect me to try to discipline diplomats as to when and how they can speak. Yes, Nick?
Question: Is there any chance we can get the stakeout delivered in ethnic Uzbek?
Spokesman: On that note, before we turn to Mr. de Mistura, who I will ask to come up here. In fact, Masood this is in fact an answer to part of your question so you may want to sit down.
**Statement on the Occupied Palestinian Territory
I do have a statement I was just given on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The Secretary-General is greatly concerned that the tragic events in Lebanon and northern Israel should not distract from the urgent need to work towards a solution to the current crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. The continued killing and injuring of hundreds of civilians, including children, in Gaza, by Israeli forces is utterly unjustifiable. Further, the arbitrary arrest of many senior Palestinians -– including Dr. Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council –- is a cause of particular concern, since it further undermines the Palestinian institutions which must be preserved if a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be achieved.
The Secretary-General also reiterates his call for a cessation of the rocket attacks from Gaza, which have indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians. He calls on the parties to resume dialogue without delay, and welcomes the continued efforts by the Government of Egypt to help bring this about.
Above all he believes these tragic events in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel and Lebanon, show how urgent it is that a comprehensive peace process be revived as soon as possible.
Question: Do you have this upstairs?
Spokesman: As always we do, in English. Mr. de Mistura. You are my guest.
* *** *For information media • not an official record